Saturday, May 27, 2017

How about the end of the year in Hong Kong? A new trip for the Wandering Writer

Hello everybody, and welcome to another adventure of the Wandering Writer. I know I am a bit late, but this new trip will probably make up for the delay (or at least I hope so).
This time I will tell about a holiday that is still able to put a big smile on my face; spending the New Year's Eve in Hong Kong.
Like it always happen when you are waiting to see something great like the famous fireworks celebration in Hong Kong, there is something that goes regularly wrong. We were supposed to reach our hotel the 30th of December, one day before the celebration of the New Year's Eve. The first flight was delayed and as a result, we missed the connecting flight.
We reached our hotel the 31st of December at 19:15, we had just five hours to take a shower, change our clothes, getting some information about the best place where to see the fireworks and reach it.
The first impression of the city, as we were reaching our hotel by taxi was amazing, every building was a celebration of lights of advertisement, best wishes for the new year and, even if a bit late, also Santa Claus with all the reindeers. We were just amazed by the show and we couldn't wait for the real celebrations waiting for us in a few hours.
Despite the warnings of the receptionist not to go to the island, we decided to ignore them, thinking that even if there would have been traffic on the streets, with a taxi, we would have been safe and sound.

What could go wrong?

Let me tell you... Everything!

The traffic on the streets started really to be crazy by the time, and following the advice of the taxi driver, we were supposed to go to Kowloon Civic Square, where he said all the fireworks would have been seen better, and since the fastest way to reach the place was to go by train, we asked him to drive us to the station.
We stopped to have a dinner in a restaurant which seemed to have still places available, and we enjoyed our dinner, knowing that we still had some time to reach the square.
Something we didn't take into account, because we didn't know, was the timetable of the train. We had a frantic run to reach the destination station and from there to reach the square; it was 5 seconds to midnight, and we were doing the countdown as we were running to the square.
We reached it at 00:00, but...
"Hey, where are the fireworks???"
Besides the music, people having great fun and bars open, no sign of fireworks...

"What the heck??"

We gather all our courage, not to look like a couple of idiotic tourists who know nothing about Hong Kong, we asked a couple of girls.
"No, there weren't any fireworks scheduled this year," one of them said.
Now, can you imagine our disappointment??
Oh, well, we were there and we blended with the others trying to have fun, and I have to admit that even without fireworks, it was a great evening!
Now, it was about 03:30 in the morning, and you can imagine how badly we wanted to go home, so we took the train to the main station and looked for a taxi.


All the taxis were already booked and those taxi drivers who weren't booked were on a pause and were calmly having their dinner without bothering the fact that there were a lot of people trying to get back to their hotels or homes.
It took more than one hour to finally get in one taxi, which brought us to the wrong hotel. I mean, the hotel chain was the same, but ours was on the mainland!!
We begged the receptionist to call us a taxi and explain to the driver where we needed to go; we were dead tired!
Half an hour and the taxi arrived, bringing us at 06:20 at our hotel!!!
Small advice, before planning this kind of trip, get informed about fireworks and get there a few days in advance.
Besides this small detail, Hong Kong is a must visit, particularly if you are looking to upgrade your mobile phone or laptop with one of ha latest and expensive models. Since most of the electronic appliances are made in China, Hong Kong offers great deals.
The city itself offers a lot to the curious eye, and don't miss the street markets as together with the cheap bad deals, you can find great bargains, and a great insight on the culture.

The city, due to the growing population is built vertically, and sometimes it is quite astounding looking at those tall buildings with so many apartments that can really make you think about the number of people living in the same building.
For the westerner eye, this might resemble more closely a termite's nest, rather than a human settlement, but considering the population and its constant growth, this is the most effective way to give housing to everybody.
I am just wondering what would happen if you live on the top floor and the elevators are not working...

Don't miss the breathtaking view of the Hong Kong skyline, from the Victoria Peak. This is the highest mountain (552 m) in the island and is located on its western half side and gives the chance to have a nice view of the valley.
It is comfortably reached by the funicular which costs 45 HK$ or 5 USD for a return ticket. You can have a nice dinner and a walk in the surroundings, enjoying also a stunning view of the city by night.

Walking night time is not only safe, but also highly suggested, as you see the two faces of the city and the culture, from the food you that really make you wonder...

To the big city lights...

And as the sun sets to another great city, I greet you to the next adventure promising a better timing on the weekly schedule!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Between writings and drawings, a new challenge for the W(o)ndering Writer

Last week, I joined a friend of mine to one conference about how we perceive images and the fact that images, whether they are paintings or photograph, they cannot be "read," but just watched.
I am not an expert is this matter, but I know a something about creativity, and I was disappointed by the way certain people look at a painting with such cold feelings. We all agree that after all painting is nothing else but the combination of colors on canvas, but there is a lot more that happens in our brain when we look at those combinations.
The conference itself was totally boring, something I wouldn't suggest to my worst enemy, and for that reason, I grabbed the first chance to get out of that place before its end.
Nevertheless, it was able to raise a lot of questions in my mind.
For this reason, I took out randomly a couple of paintings and looked at them. Well, indeed I could read the story behind them. It was like taking a book and read a novella. The difference between a written text and painting is that one uses the words, to describe what happened to the characters and the environment where the story is happening. With the painting, the artist takes the approach from the opposite point of view, she takes the images, and through them, she tells a story.
Let's try it, are you ready?

The story: "The railway"

"It was 1877, and I was just a boy at that time. For weeks, everybody didn't speak of anything else but the final construction of the railway. That was the sort of road where a revolutionary transportation system would have reached our town; the steam train.
Before that day, I hadn't seen any of them, all the information we got was from the father of one of my schoolmates. He worked as an engineer on the realization of such an ambitious project.
Jean-Pierre was the name of my schoolmate, and he became immediately one of the most popular kids at our school. His father became almost a hero and he would have brought to our town a steam train, that would have allowed the transportation of people and goods from and to very far places.
I was excited, as you can imagine; at home, I couldn't stop talking about it, and I was eagerly waiting for the day the first train would have arrived.
Finally, we had a date, and the teacher at the school brought us to the station to admire the arrival and the departure of such a marvel of the modern technique.
We were all dressed up like we were going to the church on a Sunday morning and between all the chuckles and excited heartbeats, we started orderly to walk from our classroom to the station. As we were getting close, out voices got dimmer and dimmer, until none of us could say a word anymore.
The wait was extenuating, and a lot of people came to assist this historic event. There were photographers, painters; almost the whole town, we were all there, not wanting to miss it for any reason in this world.
Finally, we could hear a far whistle, my legs started to tremble, and in a cloud made of steam and dust, the train arrived. I could smell that distinct odor of coal and metal, getting closer, together with the grinding noise of the wheels on the tracks.
As it arrived closer and stopped, I could appreciate its dimensions; it was enormous, something beyond my wildest imagination. The conductor peeked from the train and greeted us waving his hat, and we all started to wave whatever we had at our reach, foulard, hats, books or simply our hands.
The noise of the steam was overwhelming our voices, and I thought that this must have been the glorious sound of the progress.
Our teacher explained that the train was generally traveling at the crazy speed of 50 km/h, but they could reach even 70 km/h. Could you even imagine it? It was such an inconceivable speed that many people consider it too dangerous, and preferred to see the steam train being disposed of forever.
Personally, that day I made an important decision, I would have become a train conductor. I wanted to see the world by traveling with a train, bringing the progress wherever possible, and even beyond."

Now, let's have a look at the painting (Gare St Lazare, Monet 1877):

What do you say, can we read not only words, but also images?
All comments are the most welcome, and until the next time, have a wonderful weekend!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Holiday in Cambodia... with the Wandering Writer

If any of you, people is a fan of punk music (and is not  a teenager anymore 😅), surely remembers the song "Holiday in Cambodia" of the Dead Kennedys.
Well times has changed a lot from the times when they were singing the song (1979), and the terror of the Khmer Rouge and their leader Pol Pot is now gone forever.
Nowadays, talking about going for a holiday in Cambodia, means having a relaxed holiday, enjoying the warm hospitality typical of the Asian people, the great food experience and the cultural heritage, even if in this case means also getting to know those dark periods.
For this time, I will skip the history because I feel it quite gruesome to be shared and there are things that is better to bury in the past.
Cambodia is facing even nowadays numerous challenges, as for example widespread poverty, corruption, lack of political freedoms, low human development, and a high rate of hunger. Despite this, it is one of the Asian countries with the fastest economic growth rate.
Nevertheless, when you think about giving money to beggars, you have to keep in mind that this will never end in their hands, as too many people are living in a state of slavery, and are forced to beg on the streets for the profit of the exploiters.
Phnom Penh, is the capital and is a real bustling city, busy at every time of the day and the night. It was considered, during the french colonialism the Paris of the East, and even if nowadays that that beauty seemed a bit faded, the place still keeps its charm.
The best part of the city is the riverside, where all the cafes, restaurants and hotels are located. and also where the royal palace can be admired in all of its beauty

Even if I said we should leave the painful past at our shoulders, this doesn't mean that we have to forget about it without having learned anything. For this reason something that I sincerely suggest to visit is the genocide museum in Phnom Penh.
The museum is located in a former high school, which was used by the Khmer Rouge regime as a security prison (together with other 150 locations), or if we want to be more precise an extermination camp.
The feelings are very strong, and you can almost touch the fear and pain, and just like visiting other similar places, such as Auschwitz, for example, you wonder how is it possible that something like that happened? How blind and cruel we can be towards fellows of our same species?

Nevertheless, the people are really doing their best to walk from their past trying to build a better future. Regardless whether they are still far from being a democratic country or having the same right granted for everyone, they are moving on, building something day after day for the future of the generations to come.

Our wanderings brought unavoidably to Siem Reap, where the famous temple complex of Angkor Wat is located.
I suggest you get the pass for three days, as that is the amount of time you might need if you really want to explore the whole complex, and believe me, you definitely want to see it all.
The place is incredible, and is the largest religious complex in the world. Originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu, it was reconverted in a Buddhist at the end of the 12th century. Like many other religious buildings, there are legends about its building, and one of those says that the whole complex was built in one night by divine architect.
Now, already human architects cannot build a Lego house on their own, you can imagine that at least they needed ten divine architects to do it in one night, and yet, I am not sure they would have managed to make something that could even compare with the beauty of the place.
But let's have some picture talk for me, shall we?

The view of those trees wrapping the building in a deadly embrace is something that really inspired so many thoughts. I could barely take my eyes off as each of them resembled the union of two impossible lovers. Their love will kill them, but being away would have been a more painful demise.
Oh, and don't miss the view of the main building at the sunrise!!!
We stayed in Siem Reap for a few days more, and really it was difficult to leave. Far from resembling the bustling city of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap offers a more relaxing lifestyle, and walking in the evening for the streets can be an extremely pleasant experience.
The day, you can indulge yourself in some shopping in one of the many open markets, where you can find whatever you might need. Whether you mean to buy something or anything at all, it is an interesting experience, and if there is another place that tells you a lot about the culture and lifestyle of the locals, this is just the main street market.
Even for this time is everything, I wish you a very relaxing and pleasant weekend,
Stay tuned!!!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Nepal, with a nasty companion - an adventure for the Wandering Writer

As I promised you last week, here is the place where we continued our journey from India; Nepal.
It was far from the earthquake that devastated the area around Kathmandu, so nobody was thinking about it and everything seemed to be OK.
We crossed the border between India and Nepal and we reached Birgunj, where we looked for the bus station to get the night bus to Kathmandu.
It was a few hours after the sunset, when we got out from the travel agency with the bus tickets in our hands, and we were assured that the trip would have been in a very comfortable bus.
Now something that I have to warn you about is never to believe what they tell you, and be prepared for something that goes even beyond the worst case scenario you can figure out in your mind. It is not a question of scam, but you must keep in mind that people living in different countries might have different concept about what is comfortable.
The ride to Kathmandu, by bus takes 10 hours, so choosing the night bus, we believed we would have some chance to fall asleep and pass the time in a more comfortable way.
Well, we couldn't be more wrong, because the windows of the bus couldn't close properly, and I can assure you, that meanwhile, India has a hot climate even in December, Nepal, can become very cold as you start to climb to reach Kathmandu, particularly at night time.
I can tell you, I was freezing.
In the morning, we finally reached the city and the hotel, but instead of getting immediately out to discover the city, we felt so exhausted that we fell asleep.

One great piece of advice that can save you not only your holiday, giving you great memories to share with your friends, is: AVOID STREET FOOD.
This is to introduce the next adventure; street food, can be exciting, tasty, and can tell you a lot about the culture of the place, but it is also not safe hygienically speaking.
Useless my warning to my husband, who wanted absolutely to try it, he woke up the morning after, with an extremely sick feeling.
His body temperature raised in the following two days to 42C and despite I asked for some doctor or ambulance, nobody at the hotel did anything.
It has been for four days in the bed, delirious with the fever, eating almost nothing, making me fear that this time I couldn't save him.
I walked the street and asked some locals about a hospital for my husband, explaining the situation without any result until one old man said:
"Look, I think I know who can help your husband, walk for a couple of blocks in that direction," he said pointing at his right. "Turn to a small street, where there are a lot of small shops, like a market. On the right side, there is a sort of pharmacy, I am sure that if you bring your husband there and explain the situation, they can help. They speak english."
Very thankful, and hopeful, I greeted the man and ran to the hotel.
Bringing my husband outside the hotel was something extremely difficult, as he could barely stand on his feet (and I am a small lady).
Nevertheless, we reached the "pharmacy" which was just a sort of permanent market stand where all sorts of medicines were sold.
I explained the situation to the seller, and he nodded with the same expression of someone who deals constantly with those cases, like "Holy cow again another foreigner who eats whatever he finds."
He gave me a blister with eight pills, there wasn't any recognizable medicine name or any instruction, but since the case was desperate, I decided to trust him.
"Give him one in the morning and one in the evening, NOT more," he warned.
Would you believe it? In two days he was as good as new, even if we finished the four day cure.
We found out later that probably my husband got Salmonella, and the medicine was a strong antibiotic given generally to the horses... Oh well, it worked!!!

Kathmandu, to the tourist might resemble, in many ways India, and somehow it really does, having mostly the same religion and similar cultural heritage. Nevertheless, it surely keeps its own identity, both in the architecture, food and lifestyle.
Unfortunately, we had very short time after my husband's recovery to really visit the city and on that occasion even my camera decided that life wasn't anymore worth and died. For this reason I have to use also images I could find on the internet of those places I visited.

The streets are generally very crowded at any time of the day
  But this makes the city more colorful, and believe me, whenever you need help, it is easier to find it in a crowded street than in an isolated one. The economy is mostly based on tourism and there are handicraft shops wherever, but differently than in India, the merchants tend to be less pushy.
The main animal you will be able to find in the streets is the monkey,
   Particularly, you can find them around the Monkey Temple, where human's cousins are venerated, protected and kept well fed. However, the growth of the ape's population can be seen also as a danger to the animals, who might find death or serious injuries when daring the street traffic.
Talking about the Monkey Temple, it is something I heartily suggest to visit, but be prepared as there are quite many steps to be climbed to reach it,
   Nevetheless, the view from there is amazing, and I presume there are very few places that can offer such a view over the city.
 The city is full of shrines and small temples; almost at every corner of the city you might find one, so you really do not need to go far or to walk for kilometers to appreciate the religious culture of Nepal.

Life is a real adventure on its own, but if you do not dare to go out of your comfort zone, to get in touch with other cultures, people, and climates, you might miss the understanding of this magnificent place which is our planet, in its own diversity and complexity.
I am thankful for the chance given to travel and gather those experiences that not only shaped my character, but also gave me inspiration for my novels, and enriched me with a wider understanding of human nature.
We all are the same in this world, yet, we are so different, and this difference makes our richness. For this reason, I suggest to you all, to get out of your comfort zone, and whether you can travel in first class, or on the cargo; on a five star hotel or as a backpacker, grab any chance that comes to your way.
There is only one life, and that doesn't last forever.

The long road of writing a book.

Publishing a book is a journey on a rocky path that involves several stages, from writing and pre-editing to editing, formatting, selecting ...